"Bright, Mechanosensitive Upconversion with Cubic-Phase Heteroepitaxial Core–Shell Nanoparticles"

Alice Lay: Chris Siefe, Stefan Fischer, Randy D. Mehlenbacher, Feng Ke, Wendy L. Mao, A. Paul Alivisatos, Miriam B. Goodman, and Jennifer A. Dionne; Nano Lett, 07/11/18.

Additional Authors: Chris Siefe, Stefan Fischer, Randy D. Mehlenbacher, Feng Ke, Wendy L. Mao, A. Paul Alivisatos, Miriam B. Goodman, and Jennifer A. Dionne

Abstract:

Lanthanide-doped nanoparticles are an emerging class of optical sensors, exhibiting sharp emission peaks, high signal-to-noise ratio, photostability, and a ratiometric color response to stress. The same centrosymmetric crystal field environment that allows for high mechanosensitivity in the cubic-phase (α), however, contributes to low upconversion quantum yield (UCQY). In this work, we engineer brighter mechanosensitive upconverters using a core–shell geometry. Sub-25 nm α-NaYF4:Yb,Er cores are shelled with an optically inert surface passivation layer of ∼4.5 nm thickness. Using different shell materials, including NaGdF4, NaYF4, and NaLuF4, we study how compressive to tensile strain influences the nanoparticles’ imaging and sensing properties. All core–shell nanoparticles exhibit enhanced UCQY, up to 0.14% at 150 W/cm2, which rivals the efficiency of unshelled hexagonal-phase (β) nanoparticles. Additionally, strain at the core–shell interface can tune mechanosensitivity. In particular, the compressive Gd shell results in the largest color response from yellow-green to orange or, quantitatively, a change in the red to green ratio of 12.2 ± 1.2% per GPa. For all samples, the ratiometric readouts are consistent over three pressure cycles from ambient to 5 GPa. Therefore, heteroepitaxial shelling significantly improves signal brightness without compromising the core’s mechano-sensing capabilities and further, promotes core–shell cubic-phase nanoparticles as upcoming in vivo and in situ optical sensors.

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